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Shapewear can make you look thinner and more toned in a matter of seconds. It's easy to see why it's so appealing, but is wearing Spanx and similar products really such a good idea?

Shapewear — also known as Spanx, shaping underwear, and foundational garments — can drastically alter a person's appearance in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Your abdominal flab, big butt or fat thighs can "magically" disappear, giving you a sleek silhouette without ever going to the gym. Who doesn't want that, really?

I know I do. OK, I fully admit I was embarrassed the first time I bought shaping undergarments, but I quickly got over that when I saw how effective they were. After two children, my abdomen simply doesn't look the same any more, and I still want to look great in tight dresses on special occasions. If that sounds familiar, you may have already taken the shapewear plunge.

Once you know how much better these shaping underclothes can make you look, it's all too easy to start wearing them every day. But should you? 

We know Victorian corsets, which are incidentally also gaining popularity again, can do all kinds of permanent harm to the body. The ladies from the Victorian Dress Reform Movement would turn in their graves if they saw Blac Chyna and Kim Kardashian, despite their envy-inducing figures, because corsets can restrict breathing, damage internal organs, and even crack ribs. 

Is Shapewear Dangerous?

Shapewear, though? That stuff is made out of lycra and can offer a mild, moderate, or more radical slimming effect. Shapewear comes in all shapes and sizes. You've got tights, full body suits, underpants, longer underpants that also make your legs look thinner, camisoles, underdresses, and underdresses without breast support — so you can still look full up top. It usually doesn't have bones, and definitely doesn't go as tight as corsets do.

Surely, modern shapewear makes you look great safely? Perhaps not.

Dr Irfan Tariq, a gastroenterologist, says a remarkable number of his patients have developed health problems after using shapewear. "Using shapewear, particularly of the wrong size, may literally be crushing a woman’s organs," he warns.  "The most common adverse effect of shapewear is the development of GERD – a condition in which the acids of the stomach move back up into the esophagus when the stomach is compressed. This causes severe heartburn, nausea and abdominal discomfort."

But there's more: "Shapewear also pushes against the diaphragm, making it difficult to breathe and maybe causing shallow breathing. Issues such as stress incontinence, resulting in a loss of bladder control, also affect women who use shapewear. Besides affecting the abdominal organs, shapewear has also been found to cause temporary numbness in the thighs and skin infections as well."

And Corsets?

The potential side effects of shapewear still don't come anywhere close to those of more traditional corsets. Corsets may make you look fantastic, but be very careful before you decide to jump on the tight-lacing bandwagon. Dr Tariq has no problem with medical corsets that are designed to deal with posture issues, but warns against turning to corsets for weight loss: "Besides helping with certain physiological conditions, such as back pain, corsets help women deal mainly with psychological issues, primarily those pertaining to weight loss and self-esteem."

"The fact is that corsets cannot make you lose weight or cut down your weight in any way."

He adds: "Losing weight with corsets does not make any medical sense whatsoever. The reason why women claim to have become slimmer after wearing these devices is that the pressure it exerts on the abdomen causes difficulties in eating comfortably. So in reality, it is not the corset causing the weight loss, it is the reduced caloric intake. Corsets may compress your waist about 3 to 5 inches and can only make you feel slim, not slim in reality. In order to achieve a long-term ideal figure, follow a proper weight-loss regime." 

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